Ever been at work when you are ill?
Know people at work that are ill?
Maybe you/they have had a little time off occasionally, a sick day here or there.
Do you know someone that has been sick with more than the common cold?
- Maybe a broken limb.
- Maybe something more serious like cancer (including depression’s Movember stablemate prostate cancer)
Something that for a period of time prevents 100% attendance, 100% performance?
Land of the Sicky
Australia is the land of the sicky. We, as full time permanent workers, get an allowance of about 10 sick days a year, give or take.
Australia is also a nation where the national pastime has been (this attitude is changing slowly) drinking. There aren’t many events in Australian life where you can’t find a glass of something alcoholic.
When you combine these two aspects of Australian life and work you get another Australian tradition, the “sicky”. Which is of course a sick day for no other reason than to allow you to get over the big night, to sleep out the hangover, or maybe just to hit the pub again for the hair of the dog.
- If someone is physically ill, we make allowances.
- If someone is hungover and pulling a sicky, we have a chuckle at their misfortune, curse when it becomes a regular event, but otherwise we just accept it.
Try to get time off or a little bit of leeway because you are depressed and you will get:
Get over it you wuss!
Even when you are providing doctors certificates for your visits to the shrinks.
Even when you make up the lost time with extra hours.
Even when you bust your gut just to get out of bed in the morning, to keep your job, to keep yourself going, to give yourself another tool against depression, you are looked at with suspicion.
The Importance of work
Work is vitally important when you are depressed. You need things to point to and acknowledge that you are of value, that you have success, a reason to drag yourself out of bed every morning, cause god knows that’s hard enough some days.
I’m very fortunate that I have had good jobs over the years, a reason to get out of bed. There have been times (long periods) where the ONLY reason I have gotten out of bed is to go to work, due to my need to pay the bills (occasionally on time), my desire to do right by my workplace and my workmates. I don’t know how the jobless survive and I am sure that just being jobless is an open invitation to the black dog to come stay.
It’s one of those vicious cycles where you need the job as another tool against depression, yet the depression is doing it’s best to get you out of work.
Workplace policies and understanding
This is where you need a good workplace, an open workplace where depression is understood to be as debilitating as chronic physical illnesses.
I work in a good workplace these days. Work-Life balance policies, sick leave policies, they support and encourage Movember (including matching all donations received) even a corporate sponsored (anonymous) counseling service.
Yet, if that leads you to believe that depression is understood and accepted in the workplace, you would be wrong.
The structure is there for acceptance, but the individual understanding is not. If I can’t see a plaster cast on your arm to scribble inanities, or see your sunken cheeks and hair loss, you just aren’t sick enough.
Silence is the enemy
Stigma and lack of understanding are the two biggest enemies of the depressed in the workplace.
It’s so stigmatized you dare not discuss it in the workplace, maybe not even tell your otherwise understanding manager.
Because it’s not discussed, understanding isn’t enabled.
Let’s not even assume that your coworkers or management also suffer from depression
If 1 in 8 men experience depression in their lifetime, 1 in 5 people overall, there is a pretty damn good chance that the person sitting next to you, your direct reports, your managers, have at some point experienced depression.
So why isn’t it discussed?
It’s a career limiting move!
Well, at least seen through the eyes of the mental illness stigma, it’s a career limiting move. No one wants to admit to a weakness in the business world, let alone a mental illness. Yet, it’s amazing how many high profile Australians come clean, CEO’s, politicians, sportspeople, artists and performers. These people inspire us to be the best we can be, just we wont discuss what is probably their greatest challenge, overcoming and managing their depression… at least not in relation to ourselves or our families.
I’ve had some bad periods with depression while working, thankfully I still have my job. Often my perspective narrows to ignoring everything except protecting my job as it is a lifeline in so many ways. Of course, to maintain work performance, personal performance (or even recovery) can and probably will suffer as it takes a back seat.
Even though my manager knew of my battle with depression, even though he knew that I was actively fighting it through medication, counseling and lifestyle changes, he still often forgot that, it isn’t physically obvious. I don’t think he told other people (it certainly wasn’t taken into account during review time) and even I slipped up with informing my immediate colleagues.
Which raises a problem… if there isn’t anything physically obvious wrong, and performance is declining, people start to make their own assumptions as to the cause. This is where one of my issues with RealID lies. Performance declines, no physical indication of why… must be life style.
Ohhh he plays WoW… I bet he plays WoW all night long then comes to work looking like shit
Bullshit… yeah I’m calling bullshit, but that’s one of the problems when you have an invisible, unspoken illness, people are left to define their own illness and attribute the symptoms to that. Ohhh, I know it’s bullshit, because I carefully monitored my WoW time to ensure that it didn’t interfere with other important aspects of my life, like my family and managing depression in my family. I played 5-7 hours a week, and 6 of those hours were on a Friday night… My Friday night “out” with the boys (while staying at home close to my family).
The thing is, I think many people know about depression, obviously many people experience depression, yet for some reason there is a stigma, particularly in a workplace, that prevents us being open about it, about accepting it as another common, treatable illness.
Support in the workplace
There are initiatives that help, such as free confidential workplace counseling. I have taken advantage of this during my darkest hours. While not officially for non-work issues, it gave me the strength to seek help outside of work. Ironically on my last visit (one requested by the counselor to ensure I was making progress), they said a funny thing…
I’m sorry you can’t continue to use the service, as it is intended for business related issues, and as your issue isn’t affecting your work, nor is work contributing your issue, we much end it
There was a direct relationship between my work and my mental state, or my mental state and my work, which ever way you want to look at it. My lowered performance was causing problems, those problems were causing an altered mental state and once again with the vicious cycle.
Of course I accept that I had a personal depression issue, but it was strange that there was a suggestion that there was no impact in a business sense, and that coming from a counselor.
Other initiatives include support for Movember. When I see a guy in the lift with a Mo, I know it’s for Movember (OK, maybe it’s not, but that would be weird wouldn’t it…). There are events and communication throughout Movember, all of which helps to raise awareness, and drag the black dog out in the open, where it can be confronted.
Compassion in the workplace exists, but of course it also depends on the capacity of the business to support it. I had a colleague at an old workplace who had a devastating emotional breakdown. I was very fortunate to know him before his breakdown and this gave me additional purpose on maintaining the friendship afterward. Our workplace was very supportive and he continued working there until retirement, partially paid through wages, partially through sick leave entitlements.
Yes he “worked” on his sick days. Work was very important to him and his well-being. As the years went on and old staff left and new started, they would get frustrated with him and a workplace that would support someone with the degree of illness he experienced. One day, with his permission, we got his doctor to come to work and talk us through it. What we discovered was, we were a key factor in his life, the reason he got out of bed in the morning, the reason to keep on living.
I’m not saying it was easy working with him, or socializing with him, but I was enriched as a human being. He is a man with a million stories and experiences. The sort of guy that can keep 5-6 conversation threads alive at any one time. His was a life saved by a compassionate workplace and caring workers.
Dragging the black dog out of the closet and into the workplace
So work is important for combating depression, thus an understanding of depression in the workplace is vital.
The question is… how?
Well, you could talk about depression at your workplace if you have the strength, confidence or workplace support. I know when I find myself talking about my depression, my volume raises just a little bit, just enough to carry a little bit further. I’m not afraid of people knowing of my dealings with depression, I’m more concerned that people might think they are unusual, the “one depressed worker in the village”.
Career limiting move?
Ahh screw that!
If it ever proves to be a career limiting move (most likely due to lack of understanding and pure stupidity on behalf of a manager), then screw them.
If on my death bed, I can’t talk about being the CEO of a company (hang on, let me check my list… naah not there anyway), I will still rest happy, knowing that there is a damn good chance I will have changed or saved at least one life and done my bit in reducing the stigma of depression in and out of the workplace, making it just that little bit easier for everyone else.
Movember… hey, here I am, growing a Mo (well, two if you consider that poor excuse of Gnomeaggedon’s a Mo), talking to you, being seen in my workplace, even collecting a little cash on the side to help beyondblue and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.
Why not grow a Mo of your own. If you are the kind that gets a 5 o’clock shadow at 10.30am in the morning, you definitely aren’t too late to join. Even Gordon’s attempt at growing a Mo would at least raise awareness… I’m sure at least one person would wonder what was going on… maybe he should start now for next year…
Of course you don’t need a Mo to be a Mo Bro, or Mo Sista, you just have to support the cause. Whether that is via a donation or spreading the word, it all helps to reduce the stigma of depression. If you are struggling to broach the topic, why not just publicize the Movember website, or more directly the beyondblue website, or worst case… share these blog posts with someone you care about… it may just be the opening people have been looking for, the understanding that you have an understanding of depression.
Ignorance is the enemy of enlightenment, so reduce that ignorance, in yourself if need be, in your family, in your workplace. let’s get it to the point where when some one asks:
How ya going mate?
you don’t have to deceive with an answer like:
Great, having a great day, how about you?
you can say, comfortably:
I’m having a shit day, a shit life… but I’m working on it and with your assistance I’m going to take that black dog out the back and shoot it
You can give via Visa, Mastercard, Amex or Paypal.
Paypal, perfect for those abstained coffee donations
Gnomer and Out!
Other Posts of mine on Movember:
- Shave and a Haircut: Movember
- Just in case you thought I wasn’t serious
- Depression in the family: Movember
- Youth gone wild: Movember
- Married with child and depressed: Movember
- Depression in the workplace: Movember
- Talking about it saves lives: Movember
- Better Off without me
- Aware People are Supportive People: Movember
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